Why Soulmates should be your next box set
Ivan Radford | On 14, Feb 2021
What if an app could tell you exactly who your soulmate is? That’s the central premise behind AMC’s anthology Soulmates. The series explores six standalone stories set 15 years in the future, after science has discovered the “soul particle”, allowing anyone to take a test that unequivocally tells you who your soulmate is. The only catch? You can’t find out their identity until they’ve taken the test too, at which point the Soul Connex app dishes up their deets.
So far, so Black Mirror, but if the key idea recalls Charlie Brooker’s dystopian drama – and, in particular, Hang the DJ – William Bridges and Brett Goldstein’s sci-fi romance finds a fresh way to hook up with some of the oldest questions in the genre’s history by approaching that starting point from a variety of different perspectives.
Episode 1 introduces us to a couple – Nikki (Sarah Snook) and Franklin (Kingsley Ben-Adir) – who are going through a rough patch, just as everyone around them is coupling with their scientifically perfect matches. Episode 3 also explores the challenge of relationship ennui, as Libby (a brilliantly flighty Laia Costa) and Adam (an endearingly selfless Shamier Anderson) have a semi-open dynamic to keep things varied, but find that casual approach is up-ended by the notion of someone else being their long-term ideal. Episode 2 takes a sideways step to consider the consequences of being unfaithful, as a university professor, David (David Costabile), is approached by his match and tempted to cheat on his wife.
All of these raise intriguing questions about fidelity, commitment issues and what it means to partner with someone, whether they’re your match or not. The very definition of “soulmate” is proven to be subjective and ambiguous – is it the person you have the most in common with, the person you love most, the person who will look after you more than anyone else or the person who fully brings out your potential? And can’t get any, or all, of those things without needing an algorithm?
The glossy production design helps to sell the idea of the pain-free test existing in a near-future world, with directors including Host’s Rob Savage and The Trial of Christine Keeler’s Andrea Harkin bringing an intimate scale to each episode. But it’s the impeccable cast who ground the what-ifs in something tangibly present, from Sarah Snook’s stoic uncertainty and Kingsley Ben-Adir’s gradually crumbling confidence to Darren Boyd (sporting a flawless American accent) capturing the frustration and determination of a match that seems perfect on paper but doesn’t guarantee an argument-free life – his grin-and-bear-it insistence that he’s with the person he’s meant to be with, no matter how miserable things get, is either stubborn denial or steadfast devotion and, however you read it, feels timelessly human.
The second half of the season varies things up by considering wider stories in which the soulmate test plays a role. Two men (Bill Skarsgård and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, clearly having a ball) go on a wild night of criminal hijinks in Colombia, but find the toughest dilemma not a moral one but the emotional question of who to choose to be with. Charlie Heaton and Malin Åkerman take things darker still with a meditation on what happens if your soulmate has already passed away. And another chapter asks what happens if you’re matched with someone who scientifically has the most in common with you, but all those things are your worst traits.
Bridges and Goldstein’s willingness to delve into the shadier side of their universe, one in which people can lie about test results or use other people’s tests to exploit and control them, brings a believably sinister aspect to a tapestry of people making themselves vulnerable the moment they open up to the idea of being partnered with someone. But these left-field explorations of identity and longing also leave some questions frustratingly unexplored, getting slightly distracted by cults and killers to fully sell the relationships at the tales’ core. One particular disappointment is an episode that withdraws from themes of sexual fluidity – what if you think you’re heterosexual but you’re paired with someone of the same sex? – to stick with something more rigidly conventional, but Soulmates’ first season is strongest when it plays things safe. With a second season already greenlit, here’s hoping that means the show has more opportunity to diversify and build on this promising first run.
Soulmates is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.